HTML> "Cassandra's Dream" ~~ a Cinema Signals Movie Review by Jules Brenner

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. "Cassandra's Dream"

After "Match Point" I'm not about to miss another Woody Allen comedic thriller, so I went into this with high expectations. While I'd rename this movie "Pipe Dreams" to better describe the motivating force behind such a relentlessly driven train to disaster for two brothers, I can't say it's as complex or clever as its predecessor nor that it shares the emotional depth. But it's not at a loss for commanding your closest attention, either.

Terry (Colin Farrell) and Ian (Ewan McGregor) are two brothers with their own approaches to breaking out of London's working class. In their sibling relationship, they're mutually dependent and as tight as thieves in their general outlook and tastes. When possible, they enjoy the same big-ticket enjoyments, so long as they can pull the quid together to make it happen. Combining their resources is how they manage to pay for a nice little sailboat, called "Cassandra's Dream."

Terry inclines toward the quick score, like at the poker table. A series of hot streak wins has him on cloud nine and sucked into the intoxication of gambling... until his hand turns cold and his 5K winnings morphe into a 90k debt. He hasn't any idea how he's going to avoid having his legs broken by his debtors when he doesn't come up with the first payment.

Ian is envisioning a sure thing in a hotel business deal in Southern California. He sees himself in silk suits and luxurious surroundings as soon as the project gets going. In the meanwhile, he's met the girl of his dreams (Sally Hawkins) to share his great future wealth with. Now, all he needs is an angel to come in with, say, 50,000 quid. So far he hasn't found that person and his options aren't altogether clear, but there's always Uncle Howard (Tom Wilkinson). As mum constantly says, "if not for Uncle Howard..."

Well, if it's isn't Uncle Howard who shows up and takes the family out for dinner at a posh restaurant. When mum discloses that her two sons would like a private word with him, he's more than acquiescent. After listening to the boys' plights and pleas for money, he discloses that he has a need of his own, which he quickly shares with them.

No successful businessman hasn't done something that's a little shady now and then, and Howard is no exception. Trouble is, what he needs from the boys is way beyond "shady." Howard's in a load of trouble and the only way out of it is to eliminate a rival before the guy pleads against him in a court case. Ruin and imprisonment are staring him in the face and there's only one way and a couple of days left to avoid it.

The boys can't deny Uncle Howard, can they? The man who has been so generous to the family in the past? Clearly, he's desperate. But, murder...?

As Allen takes his delusional businessmen on their ill-equipped caper, worrying out every taste of ineptitude and angst-filled humor, his literary and directorial presence is marked by a rising level of distress and misery. The tensions rise, the worries mount, the plot dynamics grow in verbal intensity. The actors are consummate with the material and skillfully draw imbalance and irony out of their character and situation even as the effort becomes too drawn out.

Despite the wearying effect of too much bloat in the telling and a rather wan wrap-up, however, this is archly contrived nail-biter territory and an almost giddy strain on our nerves as Allen moves his hapless heroes from bad to far worse.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  


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